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State bar approves pro bono reporting requirement

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How many hours of pro bono work did you perform last year?

That’s a question lawyers likely will have to answer soon, but not without some debate over another question: What constitutes pro bono work, exactly?

The Indiana State Bar Association’s House of Delegates last week approved a proposal championed by Indiana Chief Justice Brent Dickson that for the first time would mandate attorneys report the number of hours of free legal service they provide annually.

cj2-15col.jpg Members of the Indianapolis Bar Association watch a video featuring Chief Justice Brent Dickson, who addressed the gathering Oct. 10 to push a proposal for pro bono reporting. (Photo courtesy IndyBar)

Outgoing ISBA President Dan Vinovich said the resolution passed with a couple of provisos – that there be further study on what constitutes pro bono work and an assurance that the proposal won’t be a step toward mandating attorneys provide pro bono work.

“My understanding is eight states, I believe, do currently have this, and it seems to be increasing in trend,” Vinovich said. “The concept is a noble vision.”

Several proponents of pro bono reporting point to Florida as an example. Pro bono reporting has been required there for more than two decades, and the result has been a steady increase in service hours reported and dollars contributed to legal aid groups, both of which are tracked by the Florida bar.

Twenty years ago, lawyers in the Sunshine State donated 806,874 hours of pro bono work and $1.5 million to legal aid groups. For the year ending June 30, 2012, those hours had more than doubled and lawyers’ legal aid contributions more than tripled to almost $4.9 million.

“It turns out there is an uptick in volunteerism when mandatory reporting is put into place, but it is not a magic wand that will solve problems,” said Indiana Tax Court Judge Martha Blood Wentworth, who also chairs the Indiana Pro Bono Commission.

Dickson stumped for the reporting proposal in an address to the Indianapolis Bar Association earlier this month. He told Indiana Lawyer that the Supreme Court is looking for suggestions from lawyers on how to encourage more pro bono work and how to implement the reporting requirement.

“We’re really looking for not just lawyers to do pro bono work, but how do you incentivize it,” Dickson said. States such as Arizona, for example, provide continuing legal education allowances in exchange for hours of pro bono service, and some have suggested other potential rewards for pro bono work.

Marion Superior Judge Mark Stoner, who chairs IndyBar’s Pro Bono Standing Committee, likes the idea of defraying CLE costs for pro bono work. “Given the prolonged tough economy, particularly for solo practitioners, I believe this would give them sufficient incentive to perform pro bono work. Everyone would benefit: Lawyers would receive additional training, lawyers’ costs would be reduced, and citizens would receive more and more varied pro bono services.”

But many attorneys don’t need an incentive. They say the work holds its own rewards.

Case studies

A couple of weekends ago, 67 refugees from seven nations took a step toward securing their futures with the help of 15 attorneys who volunteered part of a Saturday to help walk them through the immigration maze.

Sponsoring agency Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic in Indianapolis said this month’s Refugee Green Card Day event was the first in which lawyers were joined by doctors and photographers. This “one-stop shop” allowed refugees from countries such as Burma and Sudan to get all the help they needed to prepare and file documents to adjust their immigration status.

“Every time we’ve gotten really positive feedback from attorneys,” said Rachel Van Tyle, staff attorney for the legal clinic. “It’s happy work. You’re helping someone become a legal permanent resident of the United States. That’s one of the reasons this event is so successful with volunteer attorneys.”

The Green Card Day events take place twice a year, in February and October, months that tend to coincide with federal refugee settlement patterns, Van Tyle said.

Attorneys who help out in such events come from many walks of life and types of law practice.

Events like this are ideal for pro bono work because the commitment is defined and discernable, Van Tyle said. The clinic keeps track of the hours attorneys volunteer and reports those numbers to the Pro Bono Commission. She thinks mandatory reporting is “a great idea,” particularly because many law schools are placing greater emphasis on service and volunteer work.

While Indiana has no requirement, the commission sets an aspirational goal for lawyers to perform 50 hours of pro bono work annually.

Cohen & Malad LLP attorney Ned Mulligan is a member of the IndyBar Pro Bono Standing Committee and co-chairs the bar’s Ask-a-Lawyer program, which earlier this month dispatched attorneys to 11 Indianapolis Public Library branches, offering free legal advice to more than 600 people. Common needs are in the areas criminal law, family law, bankruptcy and landlord-tenant disputes.

Mulligan said the need for legal representation far outstrips the ability to meet it. “It’s apparent to me there are a lot of people who have legal problems and some of them have serious legal problems, and they don’t know where to go and they don’t know who to see.”

Question time

Requiring pro bono reporting is a good step, Mulligan said, but it’s important that lawyers who do volunteer work are those who want to. And, he said, it’s important to determine what kind of work will be counted as pro bono. For instance, is serving on a pro bono committee the same as representing a client in a matter?

Dickson said there are plenty of such questions, and the court will welcome the bar’s help in sorting out the answers. He posed a hypothetical: If an attorney does legal work for his church or the Red Cross, is it pro bono?

“I don’t know how I come out on it,” he said.

What about cases that start out with paying clients, but at some point the client can no longer afford to pay? If the attorney agrees to continue her representation without charge, the rules say that’s not a pro bono case, Dickson said. Whether that distinction should continue if reporting is required is another consideration, he added.

Another unresolved question: Should each attorney’s reported pro bono hours be publicly disclosed on the Roll of Attorneys?

There is at least one area where Wentworth said there is no question. She’s repeatedly heard worries that the reporting requirement would be a step toward requiring attorneys provide pro bono service.

“One of the reasons people are against mandatory reporting is they feel like it’s a slippery slope” toward a service requirement, she said. “I don’t know how many ways we have to say that’s not the case.”

The bar doesn’t want mandatory pro bono, and neither does the Pro Bono Commission, Wentworth said. Indiana caselaw doesn’t favor mandatory pro bono, she said, noting a 2001 Indiana Supreme Court ruling in David T. Sholes v. Christine (Sholes) Patterson, holding, among other things, that appointed counsel in civil cases must be compensated.

Vinovich noted that in the couple of states where a mandatory pro bono scheme was enacted, it was later ruled unconstitutional. He doubted such a proposal would survive an Article 1, Section 23 challenge under the Indiana Constitution, and besides, “No one has indicated Indiana would be going this direction if we take this step.”

Wentworth said what’s in mind instead is nothing short of a change in culture in the profession to favor more volunteerism.

“We knew we could not make a cultural change without the state bar and the local bars as well,” she said. “There’s no question this will be talked about, and there will be a wide array of people asked to weigh in on it.”•

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  • Stand up in church too
    This reporting requirement is the wrong thing to do for so many reasons. I am very disappointed to see the Delegates approved it. How would you feel about standing up in church and announcing your contribution to the plate? Would that encourage you to put more in? Think very carefully about what we are about to lose here, you will not get it back.
  • unintended consequences if pro bono work must be recorded
    There's one effect of this new policy that may not have been considered. As a solo appellate practitioner, I don't keep track of my pro bono hours. Not having to start and stop the meter is one of the nice fringe benefits of doing such work. Now I'm faced with losing that benefit, or else taking the risk of estimating my time.

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  1. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

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